Reflections from the Ally Community Forum Series

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Professional learning communities generate new knowledge through the contributions and dialogue of their participants. Members of the Ally Community met seven times via Collaborate throughout the Fall 2018 term to share experiences and discuss strategies for inclusive learning. I want to begin by thanking the 16 campus leaders who presented at the Ally Community Forum Series, as well as everyone in the Ally Community for contributing to an amazing 2018. We’ve created knowledge resources, case studies, presented at conferences, and together we’ve advanced the conversation not only about Ally, but also about how to create pathways to more inclusive learning for all students. 

If you have missed one or more webinars, feel free to access our Ally Community Forum Series Webinar Recording Playlist

Addressing Accessibility Challenges

A major theme of the series focused on strategies for overcoming barriers to accessibility. The “Accessibility Pro-Tips Panel” discussed challenges in course content accessibility and the impact it can have on student success. Panelists explained how when working with instructors to create their courses, they emphasized that accessibility best practices are fundamental to good usability, and focused on the ways accessible content authoring improves the quality of the student experience. Throughout the series, participants advocated for framing conversations with instructors about content accessibility as a social justice issue, and demonstrating how the integration of Universal Design for Learning principles into a course can help ensure a more equitable learning experience for diverse student needs.  

Participants also discussed strategies for taking on more complex accessibility issues. Accessible STEM content was one persistent challenge faced by campuses, where authoring tools are often ill-equipped to generate accessible formulas and charts. During the “Dimensions of Inclusive Learning” panel, Lucy Greco presented on some innovative new tools for interactive, accessible data charts and chemistry formulas. Untagged PDFs were another topic of conversation throughout the series, both in terms of strategies for remediation as well as how to communicate to faculty expectations about fixing difficult issues. Dena Coots explained during the “Roundtable of the Heroic-Ally Minded:” “We’re new at this, we’re in the first year of the adoption. My approach is to say, ‘Let’s get the things we can fix now and then we’ll start working on the more advanced.’”  

Designing for Inclusion

Throughout the Forum Series, participants also described their strategies for effectively leading a culture change on campus, where inclusive design becomes an integral part of the course creation process. During the “Creating a Culture for Inclusive Learning,” Dr. Bryan Berrett and Walt Hebern explained how developing trust with faculty, generating buy-in from key stakeholders, and making UDL a core component of faculty workshops has already resulted in a more accessible starting point for their new faculty courses. 

The Community Series also explored broader notions of inclusion and inclusive design. Across the webinars, participants shared the impact inclusive course designs can have not just on students with disabilities, but also on students who rely on mobile devices, second-language learners, commuter students, and the spectrum of diverse needs and abilities. During his “Accessibility for Everyone” webinar, Christopher Phillips detailed the shift towards a model of proactive inclusion, where, “We just recognize more and more that we’re all students, we’re all human beings, we all want to learn in different ways… and this accessibility work is really going to be – “It’s just good teaching.”

Research Activities

At the onset of the Forum Series, we held our first convening of the Ally research SIG. During the first Virtual Office Hours, we discussed the kinds of data collected through Ally and some potential directions for campus research. Throughout the Fall term, we saw examples of campuses leveraging insights from data to help inform their decision-making and strategy. Our most recent case study with Eric Kunnen  focuses on how Grand Valley Statehas creatively leveraged usage data to inform their messaging campaigns and to organize friendly accessibility competitions between departments. During the second Virtual Office Hours, we shared an overview of our 2018 usage data and how these data can be potentially used for understanding the impact of Ally.

Our next steps for research will be a more comprehensive look at trends in the 2018 usage data and accessibility progress in relation to a campus’ Ally rollout and support strategies. We hope such insights will help provide our Ally Community with some actionable steps for moving forward with Ally. Ally campuses can access and complete the survey at: End of 2018 Term Survey.

We look forward to our continued collaboration and an amazing 2019, working together as a community and taking another collective step forward on the pathway to inclusion.